Sunday, April 25, 2010

Cowboys and Indians, Quaker-Style

Today after meeting, we were all standing around and talking like we usually do. One of the other mothers of young children stopped by where I was chatting, and let me know what the kids were up to outside. She looked a little bemused, and not entirely comfortable:

"They're all out there playing Indian Wars. I wonder if I ought to break it up."

I made some vaguely sympathetic comments, and she continued, with a little smile:

"The Indians are the good guys. And two of the girls are out there playing negotiator. They told me, 'We're not on either side. We're negotiating a treaty.'"

We decided to let them keep playing. Bless 'em all, and bury my heart at Wounded Knee.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

A Long Comment that Ought to Appear under "On the Hope Inherent in Opening One's Mouth"

*Deep Sigh* This is not a particularly well-written post. It was originally just supposed to be a comment reflecting on another person's comment in my previous blog post, but it got waaaaay too long. I apologize for the fact that it is disjointed and clunky.


Hi John Michael... I have done some research as you suggested, and I have found some information that, after reflection, I have decided should be included here for folks to see. I hope you will forgive me if I seem at all sharp in any of my comments here, it isn't my intention. I like you very much; you're among my favorite people. I think that you and I will continue to disagree about this issue, unfortunately, but I hope we can do it with mutual respect.

First, I do not care at all what form the sexual intimacy between a married couple takes, so long as that intimacy makes them both feel loved and cared for. This is merely opinion, and is no more or less valid than your opinion about the emotional nature of certain acts. We will have to disagree here, until further Light brings us more into unity one way or another.

When I say "married couple," by the way, I am not limiting my comments to legally married couples. Quakers believe that a marriage is made by God, not by state paperwork. Our Quaker forebears 350 years ago were accused of being fornicators because it was illegal for them to marry outside official church/state channels... they married each other anyway.

Second, anal sex does indeed have health risks attached to it. So does your average white-bread monogamous coitus, at least for women. Urinary tract infections, for example, are not at all unheard of as a result of monogamous heterosexual sex. Every physical thing we do carries certain risks with it...

Also, to base one's objections to homosexuality based on one sexual act seems a little misguided... I don't think that lesbians are known for participating in anal sex much. And I can think of quite a few ways for two men to be sexually intimate without engaging in anal sex. One old Talmudic interpretation of Leviticus, by the way, is that only anal sex is prohibited; no other homosexual activity is prohibited (obviously, Jewish interpretation will vary depending on the group). So being against anal sex does not equal being against homosexual sex.

Now, HIV/AIDS is a serious disease. And the primary risk factor for getting HIV/AIDS is being a man who has sex with men. Interestingly, there are no documented cases of female-to-female HIV/AIDS, although lesbians do contract the disease in other ways. So, if I wanted to make sure of avoiding HIV/AIDS, I would be better off as a female being a lesbian than being heterosexual... in that case, being homosexual would reduce my risk of contracting HIV/AIDS.

Now, how many gay men have HIV/AIDS in the U.S.? I checked over at the CDC and found some numbers. There are roughly a million people with HIV/AIDS in the U.S. today. Of those, roughly 53% contracted it through male-to-male sex. Definitely a risk factor for the disease. But how many gay people actually have HIV/AIDS? If we assume that approximately 5% of the population is LGBT (which is the current best guess), the estimated 586,000 men who have contracted HIV/AIDS through male-to-male sex represents about 4% of the LGBT population in the U.S. This means that 96% of the LGBT population is Free of HIV/AIDS. Perhaps they do not engage in those high-risk activities that you have written about--anal sex and promiscuity? Perhaps the vast majority of LGBT folks are just like straight folk in their intimate relationships... limiting their loving to the one they love?

I looked into the "incubation" period for AIDS, by the way, and I think that your estimation of that gay couple's sexual activities was probably extremely misguided, at least based on the evidence. The median length of time between contracting HIV and becoming symptomatic is almost ten years, and can be much longer... nearly twenty. That's without any treatment. With current treatments, it can remain asymptomatic for many many years. So it is entirely possible, even likely, that the man's HIV was contracted before the couple ever became a couple. I think you owe them a mental note of apology for assuming the worst of them.

As a digression regarding stereotypes, I remember taking a psychology course in college. One of the things that I remember was a study of young women. Women with a low self-esteem (that is, women who had been told too often that they were unloved and unlovable), tended to express that self-hatred in their lives through alcohol abuse, drug abuse, promiscuity, and suicide. Just exactly the things that the LGBT community has been stereotypically associated with for many years. Perhaps they were driven to such acts through our cultural disdain, and not through their own "natural" tendencies at all?

I have looked at ex-gay information with interest. It is true that some gay people can and have been "cured" of their attraction to people of the same sex. But I do not agree that something should be cured just because it can be cured. Left-handed people used to be "cured" of being left-handed, at great cost to their psyches.

I also found the available estimated best-case statistics interesting... of people who seek counseling in order to become ex-gay, roughly one-third are "cured." Another third show some progress.. which I guess means that they are a little less likely to become romantically interested in someone of the same sex. This is from the gay population that WANTS to become ex-gay. That leaves a LOT of people out in the cold, when it comes to a cure, even for people who don't want to be attracted to people of the same sex. Becoming ex-gay is clearly not the solution for everyone.

I support a Catholic's right to believe in Catholic doctrine. I disagree with a lot of Catholic doctrine, but I think that people who think it is true should have that right. I do wish that the Catholic church would examine its practice regarding homosexuals though, because it seems to me that it is currently treading very dangerously close to hypocrisy. Look at the archdiocese of Denver, Colorado. Recently, the lesbian parents of a child were told that the child would not be allowed to re-enroll in parochial school there next year, because the parents do not "live in accord with Catholic teaching." At the same school, I have read, are children whose parents are single, divorced, and non-Catholic... none of whom can strictly be considered to be living in accord with Catholic teaching, either. The Catholic church in this case has singled out homosexuality as some sort of "special" sin, above and beyond any others. That's wrong. I hope that the church is able to figure out how to act in fairness to all people who are not living in accord with Catholic teaching, rather than hypocritically singling some out and ignoring others.

Honestly, if any of my children ever were to discover that they were LGBT, I would have the same advice that I would have for straight children: Your sexuality is a precious gift, not to be treated lightly or with disrespect. In a marriage, it will strengthen your relationship, help you learn to trust each other, and bring you both joy.

Thanks to everyone for your comments here. I've rambled on long enough, but I deeply appreciate everyone's care while replying to each other.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

On the Hope Inherent in Opening One’s Mouth

I was in the Dollar Store a few days ago, browsing through their movies, looking for something that the kids might enjoy watching. Mostly the Dollar Store has things of interest to teenagers… horror movies, action/suspense, Kung Fu, tasteless comedy… but it also has some decent children’s things occasionally… It’s a Big Big World, Dragontales, movies with cute animals… so I check out the rack once a month or so. There, between the cute animals and the grimacing people firing guns, was a lone copy of Milk. For $6. So naturally I bought it.

Milk, starring Sean Penn, is about Harvey Milk, who was the first openly gay man in the U.S. to be elected to major political office, in 1977. (The first openly gay person to be elected to public office in the U.S. was Kathy Kozachenko, who was elected to city council in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1974. And Elaine Noble was elected to Massachusetts state legislature in 1975.)

I laughed, I cried, I got indignant, I rolled my eyes like a ten-year-old at the romantic/sex scenes…. It was a great movie. (It definitely earned its “R” rating. The kids haven’t been interested in watching it yet, but we might conveniently skip a few scenes when they do.)

Harvey considered it a political act for people to come out openly as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT). He firmly believed that if people knew that they knew someone who was LGBT, then it would be easier for people to accept them as deserving of the same civil rights and basic human respect as everyone else. I think he was right.

I have come to the conclusion that it is also a political act to come out openly as a supporter of people who are LGBT. As I have begun talking to folks in my own meeting and beyond about my concern that LGBT folks need to be accepted as co-equals, the vast majority of folks have nodded, and explained that they had already quietly come to that conclusion themselves. On the one hand, this has been very reassuring. On the other hand, it has been a little troubling.

Right now, today, there are people in the United States who will tell you with a straight face that homosexuals merit the death penalty, because God has said so (see Leviticus). I’ve met them. One of them explained that he didn’t think he could ever carry out such a death sentence himself, but he would not work against any legislation prescribing the death penalty for homosexual behavior, if anyone ever proposed such a law. Now, here is the thing that is both horrific and hopeful about the people I know who have said this: They are really nice folks. Given the opportunity to think about what they believe, I think that most of them would willingly and gladly find a way in their hearts to move, literally, to a Live and Let Live position. (Sooner or later, I hope… although I haven’t convinced anyone yet.)

This is what is so troubling about all those quietly accepting folks that I have met. They may never personally do anything to cause hurt to LGBT folks, but they will never give a nudge to the folks who are overtly hostile to LGBT folks either. Harvey Milk was right; when folks come out, it gives other people the opportunity to think about their own assumptions regarding gays. When non-gay folks come out as supporting the equal dignity and worth of LGBT folks, it gives other people the opportunity to think about their own assumptions regarding what is an appropriate “straight” attitude. (For this reason, I am also openly against abortion… I hope that when I say I support the equal dignity and worth of unborn babies, that it can help people think too… )

Being an open supporter of LGBT folks is as important as it was in 1978. Some things have gotten significantly better. Some things haven’t changed much: “They go to the bars because churches are hostile” (Harvey Milk). As a Christian, that was just about the saddest thing I’ve ever heard anyone say. God sent Christ for everyone. We are all the beloved children of God. So we live in hope… we have faith in things not seen… we dream that if we speak the Truth in love, the Truth will pour down like waters on the whole wide wonderful world, and every tear will be wiped away. Speak the Truth in love. We are all the beloved children of God.

Oh yeah. If you haven’t seen Milk yet, I recommend it.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Help, Help, I'm Being Oppressed

A couple days ago, my husband called down to me from upstairs, “Honey, are you oppressed by men?”

“Sure,” I said. “It’s the violence inherent in the system.”

“When you wear your bonnet? Do men oppress you when you wear your bonnet?”

Ah. That’s why the question. This strange stairwell conversation was coming out of his online discussion with some British Friends, who were inexplicably uncomfortable with the idea of people following personal leadings to dress differently from them.

“Ah. No, the bonnet isn’t a sign of oppression. As a matter of fact, it tends to make men uncomfortable. And when men are uncomfortable, I win.” I still think this is a funny line, although the Brits didn’t see the humor. Kevin dutifully toddled off and reported his scientific findings regarding female plain dress to them, and they immediately started wondering why I felt such a need to compete. I guess I can’t win, after all.

So, yes, I’ve been oppressed and witnessed it too… from my childhood, when my father absent-mindedly responded, “Women can’t do that” when I mentioned a career possibility that I had a passing interest in. I have long forgotten which one of the scores of career possibilities it was… I know it wasn’t sperm donor. But I still remember his offhand rejection. If I reminded him of the conversation, he would be horrified. But the assumption of inferiority was still there; and the assumption kicked in before the higher faculties ever even engaged.

Through various strange assumptions as I grew into adulthood… the vice-principal of my high school shook his head at me, “You’re a smart kid. I don’t understand how you could be doing so badly in school. Maybe you should join the cheerleading squad; it would help you get involved more… Get some school spirit…”

Through that strange Episcopalian church-conference on sexual abuse, where they quoted statistics for the number of boys sexually abused by the age of 18, and the number of girls sexually abused by the age of 12. When I pointed out the lack of parity in the statistics, the presenters were genuinely distressed. They had never noticed. They had never noticed that the assumption behind their statistics was that what happens to minor girls 13 and up isn’t sexual abuse, but what happens to minor boys is. They promised to make the statistics equivalent… I dunno if they ever did. I hope so.

Right up to the conversation I had yesterday, with a sweet gentle kind man, about a Christian women’s group on Yahoo! “Well, you know, it’s a place where Christian women can get together and talk about women’s things… housecleaning, and cooking, and childcare… stuff like that….” I didn’t actually have the heart to challenge him, because I had to admit to myself that I do talk about those things with other women. Just the other day, I commiserated with a member of my meeting about the state of our porches… she had a pet rooster who had made his home on hers; I have a fence-defiant goat. Personally, I would rather have goat poop than chicken poop on my porch, but either one is annoying. So I admit that he is right… these are things women talk about. But why are they relegated to “women’s things”? And what about politics and sports and economics and social justice and spiritual growth and leadings from God? Why don’t we assume that those are women’s things?

Even my own meeting isn’t immune to the violence inherent in the system. For 350 years, Quakers have accepted the equality of men and women. But even here, where women are allowed to be strong, and men are allowed to be gentle, somehow nearly twice as many of the recorded ministers in my yearly meeting are men. And nearly twice as many of the elders (the supportive, nurturing position)are women.

So, yes, there’s violence inherent in the system. Yes, there’s deadly assumptions built into our culture. But, no, the doohickey on my head is not a symbol of male oppression.

I chose to alter my style of dress and to put the bonnet on, in order to be visible as a professing servant of God (the clothes can only bear witness to my profession, not to my actual spiritual state). I didn’t honestly have any expectations about how other people would react to this public declaration, but folks’ reactions have been interesting and instructional. Many people find my appearance strangely reassuring; total strangers will come up to me and tell me about their spiritual journeys, or ask me questions about God. My heart goes out to them; such people are on a spiritual journey, and God has placed this dumpy little Quaker where they can see her, to aid in some small portion of their trip. It’s an honor beyond measure.

Folks who are members of religious groups that practice headcovering for women find me comfortable… I’m different—they can tell I’m different—but they’re pretty sure we must have a connection somewhere, whether they’re Mennonite or Amish or Muslim.

And then there are the folks who are made distinctly uncomfortable by my appearance. At first, this bothered me a little… I don’t like making people feel uncomfortable. But I have come to understand something. If my mere appearance is enough to make someone uncomfortable, it probably has very little to do with me. It is probably because I am silently challenging their assumptions. There is probably something that they could afford to examine about themselves or their beliefs. Most commonly, folks are concerned that I don’t dress like them. For some reason, this bothers them. Sometimes they explain that it is because they think I am pretending to be better than they are, spiritually. Sometimes they explain that they think I ought to blend in better with the dominant culture, in order to be a better witness for God. Sometimes, they see my bonnet and create a whole imaginary set of stereotyped beliefs and activities for me, and it bugs them that I am intelligent and articulate and bossy and laugh too loud and detest canning and support gay marriage.

For one reason or another, I challenge their assumptions, and wrench their perspective into an unfamiliar alignment. Whenever that happens to someone, he or she becomes open to new wisdom in ways that they do not when their comfort zones are not challenged. I don’t know what new wisdom God intends to plant in folks, when my doohickey puts their knickers in a knot. But that’s not my problem. I guess I should have told my husband, “When folks are uncomfortable, God wins.” And when God wins, we all get to walk out of the cave of oppression. With or without the bonnet. Just watch out for the rabbit.